ILLEGAL–A Human Trafficking Thriller

A down-and-out L.A. lawyer with nothing to lose…
A beautiful Mexican woman who disappears crossing the border…
And the powerful and corrupt rancher who would destroy them both.

This riveting thriller  finds a cynical lawyer doing battle with cops, coyotes, and a vicious rancher as he takes on the dangerous world of human trafficking.

Haunted by a tragedy in his past and wanted by the cops for his latest illegal shenanigans, down-on-his-luck lawyer Jimmy (Royal) Payne is skipping town when he encounters Tino Perez, a gutsy 12-year-old boy newly arrived from Mexico with no money and no papers. After robbing Payne, the boy then pleads for his help in finding his mother, Marisol, who disappeared during a border crossing with a vicious coyote who preys on women caught up in human trafficking.

Will Jimmy Payne’s life end in a shallow grave?

With Tino in tow, Payne traces Marisol’s steps from Mexicali to California’s notorious Hellhole Canyon – meeting some nasty characters along the way. Will Payne’s search for answers redeem his mistakes and resurrect his dead marriage – or will he end up buried in a shallow grave? He soon realizes that there’s no escaping his past in this violent and gripping thriller that’s set against the backdrop of wider social issues including the brutal worlds of sex slavery and human trafficking.


“Levine is a brilliant stylist as well as storyteller. Illegal is the most original, offbeat and wholly entertaining thriller of the year so far. It’’s one of those rare thrillers that reaches every level it strives for and hits a bull’’s-eye with every staccato phrase Levine fires off. Timely, tumultuous, and in a word, terrific.” – Providence (RI) Journal

“Levine is one of the few thriller authors who can craft a plot filled with suspense while still making the readers smile at the characters’ antics.” – Chicago Sun-Times

Illegal is a riveting read, filled with action, pathos, and even humor. The portrait of the dangers and predations that Latinos face crossing the border is chilling and rings with authenticity. But the book’’s best quality is the way Levine invests his characters with believable humanity. A compulsively readable yet character-driven thriller.” – Booklist

“Human trafficking, sexual slavery, illegal immigrants move Illegal’s plot, which is as thought-provoking as it is action packed. [Levine] doesn’t shy from depicting the ruthlessness of human smuggling. Illegal is proof that Levine is always stretching his writing skills in new and exciting directions.” – South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Levine deserves kudos for bringing the wrenching, often gruesome details of today’s immigration stories to life while drawing readers into this fast-paced and witty novel. For those familiar with immigration policy and law, Illegal will resonate with the stories behind the headlines. For those new to the issue, the book will be a rapid plunge into one of today’s most fractious, complex and heartrending problems. Good for Levine that in the midst of this heavy drama, his complex characters pull us into their lives and keep us turning the pages.” – Los Angeles Daily Journal

Illegal has such a strong page-turning narrative that Levine’’s detailed reporting on immigration never gets in the way of the suspense and the black comedy.” – Connecticut Post

“The scenes and stories relating the abuses heaped upon the illegal immigrants are some of the most disturbing you are likely to read. Levine promises more from Jimmy Payne. And that’’s good news, especially if he continues to tackle weighty and relevant issues.” –

“The seamy side of smuggling human cargo is deftly exposed by the clear and concise writing of the Edgar Award nominated author. Levine should be commended for bringing the plight of the illegally detained victims into a forum which is both entertaining and insightful. Illegal is highly recommended.” –- Midwest Book Review

“Entertaining. Payne has a broad enough backstory and personal charm to head up a series on his own.” – Publishers Weekly

“Illegal could have been a simple adventure story, but Levine has given it a greater depth as he brilliantly captures the plight of illegal immigrants.” –

“Highly recommended.” – This Writing Life

“The combination of real-world situations, nail-biting suspense and a new character in the Levine mythos make Illegal a title for your must-read list.” –

“Levine’s action packed tale opens our eyes to the struggles for personal freedom. Tino has all the makings of becoming a literary star.” – Suspense Magazine

“A world of entertainment…an intriguing plot and a cast of colorful characters that make this a very enjoyable read.” – (Nancy Eaton)

“Exciting and fast moving…Get it! You won’t be sorry.” – Mainly Mysteries Book Reviews

“A fascinating thriller.” –

“Once the road trip begins, Levine drives the plot full tilt, like an eighteen-wheeler that’s just blown the brakeline on a downhill run. I couldn’t put the novel down, and I’m betting that any reader who picks it up won’t be able to either.” –, Mel Odom

“This novel is fun, adventurous and poignant all in one. Not since I read T. C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain have I absorbed a novel that covers the plight of illegal immigrants viewed from both sides of the issue. Great book that you will not be able to put down once reading.” –, Gil Wilson

“The characters are strong and memorable…and in the case of one of the nastiest of the lot, interestingly complex. I should also not be surprised to see Illegal as a film. It manages to capture some of those elements of grandeur, anger, and dogged individualism that have long been the heart and soul of drama set in the American west and bring them into a thoroughly contemporary context.” – Reviewing the, Yvonne Klein

Illegal is a great start to a new series and I can’t wait to see what trouble Jimmy Payne gets himself into next. 4 stars.” – Shhh, I’m

“Taking on the hot political potato of immigration gives a new twist to a tautly written thriller. I couldn’t put it down.” –, Stacy Alesi

Read an Excerpt